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South San School Board Says State Had ‘No Legal Authority’ To Appoint Monitor

South San ISD trustee Gilbert Rodriguez, right, asks district officials Aug. 7 about preparations to reopen previously closed schools.
Camille Phillips | Texas Public Radio
South San ISD trustee Gilbert Rodriguez, right, asks district officials Thursday about preparations to reopen previously closed schools.

South San Antonio Independent School District’s elected school board voted 4-3 to “withdraw (their) consent” for state-appointed monitor Laurie Elliott Wednesday evening.

The district’s attorney and board majority said the Texas Education Agency didn’t have the right to appoint the monitor because the agency hasn’t completed its investigation into the school district, but it’s unclear what impact, if any, their vote will have.

According to state documents, release from state monitoring is at the “commissioner’s discretion.”

Elliott’s monthly reports to TEA have sharply criticized the board majority,recommending the agency appoint a conservator with the authority to override district decisions.

Read Elliott’s June Monitoring Report

Board President Connie Prado said before the vote that Elliott had exceeded her authority.

“Every letter we get says ‘monitor.’ But it’s not a sanctions monitor. It’s a lone star governance coach monitor,” Prado said. “And until we get something legal from TEA … she has no authority.”

Before the board majority changed hands in November,trustees voted to “request a representative from (the) Texas Education Agency to support and monitor” the district’s compliance with the state’s Lone Star Governance model.

But trustee Elda Flores said Elliott’s role has changed, pointing to letters from the agency naming her as a monitor in April and July.                                                       

“The bottom line is that this board is not doing Lone Star Governance,” Flores said. “This board has gone beyond the need of a Lone Star Governance Coach.”

Read South San’s Resolution Withdrawing Consent for a Monitor

The Texas Education Agency began investigating whether or not South San should be sanctioned by the state in April.

The South San ISD administrative buildings are also being used to house South San High School West Campus.
Credit Camille Phillips | Texas Public Radio
South San ISD is in the process of transitioning its West Campus from an administrative office to a second high school.

TEA officials told South San in July that the agency has no plans to remove the monitor from her position. Agency spokespeople declined to comment on the district’s resolution.

Prado and the rest of the board majority also accused Elliott of contributing to the divisions and mistrust described in her monthly monitoring reports.

 “The very first day that she showed up just set the tone, in my opinion,” Gilbert Rodriguez said. “She just created an environment that was divisive. That was confrontational.”

Homer Flores said he emailed the board president and district attorney Kevin O’Hanlon after the board’s first meeting to complain about Elliott’s “berating” tone and ask for clarification on her role.

“She was intending to demonstrate her superiority of position and race,” Flores said. “Never have I felt (more) like a Hispanic minority being spoken down to by anyone than in that meeting.”

Louis Ybarra, second from left, was one of three trustees who voted against withdrawing consent for a state-appointed monitor Aug. 8, 2019.
Credit Camille Phillips | Texas Public Radio
Louis Ybarra, second from left, was one of three trustees who voted against withdrawing consent for a state-appointed monitor Thursday.

Trustee Louis Ybarra — who also identifies as Hispanic — disagreed, saying it was Elliott’s job to tell them when they aren’t following the Lone Star Governance model.

“I didn’t take it as offensive or racist or whatever else is being said,” Ybarra said. “Was it scolding? It was. And I felt the same way. I felt that we were way off the mark on Lone Star Governance and we have not been practicing it and still are not practicing it. Our focus is not student outcomes right now.”

Homer Flores also took issue with Elliott’s decision to speak during the board’s public comments July 24 after the board denied her request to be added to the agenda.

At the time, Elliott said she should have been given the opportunity to present her monthly monitoring report and reminded the board the reports were public information.

In her June report, obtained from TEA through a public information request, Elliott said “it seems as if the board is creating chaos for the district financially” by saying they want to keep costs down but making expensive decisions, such as hiring outside consultants and buying new artificial turf for the football field.

She added that “improvements academically have happened in spite of the board” and repeated that “for the sake of the students, a conservator is highly recommended.”

Camille Phillips can be reached at Camille@tpr.org or on Twitter@cmpcamille

Camille Phillips can be reached at camille@tpr.org or on Instagram at camille.m.phillips. TPR was founded by and is supported by our community. If you value our commitment to the highest standards of responsible journalism and are able to do so, please consider making your gift of support today.